Human Rights in Africa: Review of 2019 - Equatorial Guinea [AFR 01/1352/2020]


Harassment, intimidation and arbitrary detention of human rights defenders and activists continued. The judiciary continued to show a total lack of independence from the government while corruption and its impact on human rights continued to be serious concerns. Despite various public commitments by the authorities, the death penalty was not abolished.


In the year that Equatorial Guinea was a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council and was reviewed by the UN Human Rights Council during its 33rd Universal Periodic Review (UPR) session, President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo in August commemorated 40 years in power.

The country's economic crisis, notably caused by corruption, led the authorities to seek international investment. They held international events on natural resources such as oil, in April, and gas, in November. They requested a loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Human Rights Defenders

Harassment, intimidation and arbitrary detention of human rights defenders, activists and members of the opposition continued. The rights to freedom of expression and association were steadily strangled.

Human rights defender and political activist Joaquín Elo Ayeto was arrested on 25 February at his house in Malabo. He was accused of having information on a plot to kill the president and was subjected to torture while at Central Police Station after his arrest which resulted in physical injuries. He was also threatened with death by police at the station. During his detention at Black Beach prison, Ayeto’s health seriously deteriorated. At the end of a judicial proceeding full of irregularities, he was tried on 21 November for defamation and threats against the President.

Alfredo Okenve, vice-president of the Centre for Development Studies and Initiatives (CEID), was arrested on 15 March after having been banned from receiving a Franco-German Prize for Human Rights for his work. Fearing arrest, Okenve went to Malabo Airport in an attempt to leave the country. At the airport, he was arrested by eight security agents, handcuffed, put on a military plane and flown to his home town of Bata. Once they arrived, he was instructed to stay at home, and not to leave the city.

Freedom of association

The authorities continued to violate and abuse the rights to freedom of association. On 5 July, the Minister of the Interior and Local Corporations revoked by a decree the authorization granted to the CEID which the authorities accused of undertaking political activities. CEID, one of the few NGOs that denounce human rights violations and abuses in the country, appealed the government’s decision. No decision has been taken on the case by the end of the year.

Justice system

On 22 March, a “macro trial” started at the Bata Provincial Court. About 130 defendants were charged with treason, crimes against the head of state, rebellion, possession and storage of weapons and ammunition, terrorism, and the financing of terrorism. On 31 May, 112 of them were convicted and sentenced to periods ranging from three to 97 years, with 25 defendants receiving sentences of more than 70 years.

According to the international observers who attended and monitored the trial, the process was flawed with serious procedural irregularities. The prosecution offered little to no evidence to support its case against most defendants. In some cases, they presented confessions which had been obtained under torture, which included beatings and electric shocks. There also were important disparities between the court’s treatment of the prosecution and defense which contravened the principle of equality of arms. Most of defendants were held incommunicado for almost a year. They were not informed of the charges against them and were denied access to their lawyers.

Lack of accountability

National Security Ministry released a media statement on 23 January accusing 16 people of money laundering and financing terrorism and the proliferation of arms trafficking in Central Africa. The list of people included William Bourdon, the lawyer who founded the French anti-corruption legal advocacy group Sherpa, in apparent retaliation for his involvement in lawsuits in France including against the president’s eldest son accused of money laundering.

On 21 October, the IMF announced that an agreement had been reached with Equatorial Guinea for an Extended Fund Facility. The IMF has agreed a program worth around $283 million notably to improve governance and address corruption. There have been several corruption investigations including in the United States, Spain, France, Switzerland, South Africa on how hundreds of millions of (US) dollars of public funds were allegedly stolen and stashed abroad. Meanwhile, government spending on health, education, and water infrastructure over the past years has been inadequate to ensure the human rights of people in the country.

Death penalty

On 15 April, president Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo announced in Praia, Cape Verde, that he would soon submit to the country’s Parliament a bill to abolish the death penalty, as required by the Community of Portuguese Language Countries. In the UN Universal Periodic Review outcome, adopted on 20 September, Equatorial Guinea continued to express its commitment to abolish the death penalty. Despite these public commitments, the death penalty has not yet been abolished in Equatorial Guinea.

International scrutiny

On 20 September, the Human Rights Council adopted Equatorial Guinea’s UPR outcome. Equatorial Guinea accepted 202 recommendations made by other states but rejected 19 key human rights recommendations. Notably, the country disregarded recommendations for the protection of human rights defenders, rejecting recommendations to guarantee their safety, secure their work environment and to approve and implement laws to acknowledge and protect them. The government also rejected recommendations to investigate threats and reprisals against human rights defenders.

Two recommendations calling for the suspension of the 18 July 2016 Ministerial Order Number 1 from the Minister of Education and Science banning pregnant girls from attending school were also rejected. Calling for the development of good habits and to fight against negative attitudes, such as vandalism or sexual promiscuity, the article IV of the law categorically forbids the access of pregnant girls to any classroom in the country.